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posted: 8/22/2011 5:00 AM

That suburban outburst or attack? Careful how you react

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

In recent days, a Naperville man was charged with attempted murder after he reportedly chased his mother into the street and repeatedly stabbed her when she offered him a sandwich.

Then we had a report of a Woodridge man charged with murder after he reportedly confessed to killing his father by bludgeoning him with a weed trimmer. Next came a Cary teen charged with stabbing his brother in the back.

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All of these attacks came at the same time the Daily Herald examined in some depth what prompted Elgin teen Angel Facio to stab a teacher so violently that she lost her eye.

Much less brutal, but much more in the harsh media spotlight have been report after report about bizarre outbursts and fits of violence in the past year by both TV star Charlie Sheen and Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

These stories are sad. And people who attack or kill others, let alone family members or beloved teachers, absolutely must face the criminal justice system. But there's something else disturbing about these stories: Our reaction to them.

Too often, we've noticed, we've had a tendency to point at them, whisper, and either call for an immediate "eye for an eye," or we laugh. Sheen and Zambrano are easy targets because they are public figures. They have become the butt of late-night jokes and bits. Sports broadcasters and self-appointed media commentators go so far as to publicly call them "whack jobs" or "head cases." We can hear they're practically on the verge of giggling as they make their pronouncements.

This must stop. None of this is funny. These people should not be a source of amusement or bemusement for any of us.

Few of us are psychiatrists, nor would we ever pretend to be. Still, it seems in all of these cases and many others, that it is more than likely that the people who lash out in whatever form are suffering from some kind of severe depression or mood disorder. If they are, then they are sick. And if they are sick, they need treatment from mental health professionals. And they and their loved ones deserve better from all of us. They deserve our empathy and compassion. They deserve for all of us to recognize that this is a painful time for all of them. They deserve that we all stop the insensitive comments and snide asides.

Just as we've learned not to use words like "retarded" or to mock people with physical or developmental disabilities, we must learn to treat those with mental illness with respect.

In Arlington Heights last Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a plan to create a state Mental Health Services Strategic Planning Task Force. Task force members will be charged with finding ways to improve mental health services, including access to proper home and community-based help. That's a fine first step. Next is for the rest of us to show we understand that people who act irrationally often have wounded brains. And that just is not ever a laughing matter.

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